Renegade by Robyn Young

Renegade One of the reasons I love reading historical fiction is that it gives me an opportunity to learn about historical people and events that I might otherwise have gone through life knowing little or nothing about. I would probably never have thought of picking up a non-fiction book on Robert the Bruce, so I’m pleased to have been introduced to him in fictional form in this trilogy of novels by Robyn Young.

The first book, Insurrection, which I read in 2014 and loved, took us through Robert’s early years, explaining the origins of his claim to the Scottish throne, his family’s rivalries with the other contenders, the Balliols and the Comyns, and how he entered the service of Edward I of England after John Balliol was made King of Scotland. I immediately bought a copy of the second book, Renegade, so that I could find out how Robert’s story would continue, but I struggled to get into it and put the book aside until a few weeks ago, when I felt ready to have another attempt.

Renegade begins in the year 1300 with Robert Bruce in exile in Ireland, having betrayed the English and set his sights on taking the throne of Scotland. He intends to search for the Staff of St Malachy, one of four legendary relics, and use it to bargain with King Edward, but things don’t go according to plan and Robert is forced to take a different approach. Swearing loyalty to Edward again, Robert must convince the English that he has turned his back on Scotland once and for all…while secretly biding his time and waiting for a chance to launch his campaign for the Scottish crown.

I think my initial problem with this book was due to the fact that it opens with the search for the Staff of St Malachy and I tend to find ‘hunting for hidden relics’ stories quite tedious and over-used in historical fiction. However, once I got past the first few chapters this storyline was pushed into the background and I started to find the book much more enjoyable (although I still think Insurrection was the better of the two).

Robert himself is still not a character I particularly care for, which is maybe not surprising as his path to the throne is built around treachery and betrayal, but I did have sympathy for the position he found himself in and the difficult choices he had to make. I felt sorry for his friend, Humphrey de Bohun – one of the few characters in the trilogy that I do like – when it became obvious that he too was going to be deceived by Robert for a second time. As in the previous novel, the women in Robert’s life have only small roles to play, but I enjoyed the brief glimpses we are given of his wife, Elizabeth de Burgh, and daughter, Marjorie, and I was sorry that Robert seems to have so little time for them both. Isabel Comyn, Countess of Buchan, is another intriguing female character and I’m hoping we’ll find out what happens to her in the final novel – although I suspect it won’t be good.

Also in this book we learn the fate of William Wallace, who has been lying low since the Battle of Falkirk, trying to avoid being captured. Meanwhile, in England, the ageing King Edward is looking to his son – Edward, Prince of Wales – to carry on his work once he is gone, but the prince seems more interested in his friendship with Piers Gaveston and it is already obvious that he is not going to be the ruler or the military leader his father is. The period in which Renegade is set is a time of conflict and conquest, which means Robyn Young devotes a lot of pages to battles, sieges and ambushes. I’m not really a lover of battle scenes but these were easy enough to follow and understand, as well as being detailed and, as far as I could tell, quite accurate. I was interested to find that the trebuchet Warwolf which Edward is having built during the novel really existed and was used in the Siege of Stirling Castle just as Young describes in the book.

I’m now looking forward to reading the final part of the trilogy, Kingdom, and would like to do so as soon as possible, because Robyn Young has a new novel set in Renaissance Europe coming out later this year.

20 thoughts on “Renegade by Robyn Young

  1. Carmen says:

    Interesting subject. What I know about Robert Bruce I know from the movie Braveheart, which I’ve heard is not precisely historically accurate. This trilogy sounds interesting. I’ll keep it in mind if I decide to know more about him.

    • Helen says:

      I think you’ll get a more accurate picture of Robert Bruce from this trilogy than from Braveheart. I would definitely recommend these books if you want to learn more about him.

  2. Alex says:

    I think Renaissance Europe would suit me better than this so maybe I’ll wait and try that. How accurate is all the betrayal do you know, or is it being exaggerated for the sake of the story? Given the antipathy between the Scots and the English I would have thought none of them would have trusted each other once, let alone twice.

    • Helen says:

      I think it was fairly accurate…Bruce really did switch sides several times and swore fealty to Edward at least twice. One of the things which struck me while reading this book was that the antipathy between rival Scottish families could be as divisive as the antipathy between Scotland and England.

  3. Tracey says:

    I tried reading that trilogy last year but just couldn’t get into it at all which was a big disappointment to me. I actually live bang in the middle of where most of that action happened.

    Last year, I was all about the female perspective in historical fiction so maybe I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind for it. It’s a fascinating period of our history.

    • Helen says:

      The lack of strong female characters in this trilogy is definitely a disappointment, although I thought the second book was better than the first in that respect.

  4. bookgeeking says:

    Great review. I love historical fiction too. I love Karen Maitland, she is my go to author when I feel like reading this genre. Not heard of this series, might have to check it out.

  5. elainethomp says:

    I got interested in Robert Bruce ages ago and have read a lot about him. I’ve actually found the histories more interesting than most of the fiction, and this trilogy is an example of why. the hunt for relics is certainly an unnecessary addition, but in general I’ve read too much and the author isn’t doing enough to bring it to new life. There’s a trilogy by Nigel Tranter, too, if you are interested. His prose is not what I prefer but I did read the whole thing (maybe it was the subject matter).

    He had the extremely difficult problem of having to prosecute the war against the English while fighting a civil war against a bunch of powerful Scottish lords, mostly associated with Balliol & Comyn/Cumming. It’s amazing he succeeded in both. Given that he did manage to turn enemies into friends (Randolph, most notably), he must have had quite a personality. He also seems to have tried to be merciful, when he could, even when dealing with the lord who turned his womenfolk (and Countess Isabel of Buchan & Fife) in to Edward’s clutches. Edward doesn’t get nearly the opprobrium he should for their treatment.

    The author of this book seems to have invented any friendship with Humphrey de Bohun.

    Most modern historians don’t go much into what fealty meant, but one mid-century one does, from what it was in the 10th century to the romantic view of it in the 18th and 19th centuries, and says in Bruce’s period it was essentially a legal contract with conditions and either side could break it, (get out of it with the proper steps) comparing it to her contract for the history book.

    Helen, you were the one asking for old classic novels written by women, weren’t you? I will again mention Jane Porter’s THE SCOTTISH CHIEFS, which is set in this period and is one of the reasons I fixated on it for years.

    • Helen says:

      I’ve never been particularly interested in this period of Scottish history until now, which is probably why I’m enjoying this trilogy more than you did. Not knowing very much at all about Robert Bruce, everything is new and interesting to me. I suspected the Humphrey de Bohun friendship was probably fictional, though I don’t really mind that as I think it adds a more human and emotional angle to Robert’s time with the English. I will read the third book in the trilogy and then think about trying the Nigel Tranter books.

      I haven’t forgotten your recommendation of The Scottish Chiefs! I’ll have to move it higher up the list. 🙂

    • Helen says:

      I didn’t really have a problem with the battle scenes as they didn’t dominate the story too much, but the relic storyline felt a bit unnecessary. I definitely think these books are worth reading if you see them in the library, though.

  6. jessicabookworm says:

    I think Robert the Bruce sounds like an interesting character to read about. Pleased to hear you were able to come back to this book/series – I hope you enjoy the final book and a new book set in Renaissance Europe sounds good 🙂

    • Helen says:

      Yes, he is an interesting character, especially as I knew almost nothing about him before reading these books. I’m looking forward to the Renaissance one. 🙂

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